Facebook Audience Testing Case Study: Elijah McCoy Campaign

The goal of this project was to see if we could effectively market our content to an audience outside our core demographic in a data-driven manner. We picked this video as the test subject. The success of this experiment validated our strategy for the YEAR project.

1. Identify goals

Success metrics for this campaign included:

  • Engage non-core audience
  • Identify which of the target personas our list resonates with the most.

2. Brainstorm audience personas

We reviewed the video and discussed what kinds of audiences would engage with it.
We identified four audience candidates:

  1. FEE Donors
  2. Black Entrepreneurship Fans
  3. Inventors and Makers
  4. Mike Rowe Fans who like Entrepreneurship

We tested four additional placements to display the content:

  1. YouTube link from the FEE page
  2. FEE.org article on the FEE page
  3. Facebook add (content specified within ad)
  4. Facebook Video Upload

We excluded Donors from the additional placement test, this left us with creating 12 ad sets (4 placements x 3 audiences, each containing 1 ad).

3. Create saved audiences

Each audience was iterated, so the below represents the final combination of criteria. We identified a number of people, hobbies, and shows which our personas might have in their Facebook profiles, but only the below were available as targeting options:

4. Measure test results:

In terms of placement, we saw that ads with the YouTube link, FEE.org article, and in-ad content were not responding at all. The per-engagement maximum was set at 15 cents, and there were only 1-4 engagements out of 40+ reach. Cost per engagement was 3-14 cents. Once we changed format to Facebook-hosted video, reach and results immediately took off, at 1 cent per engagement.

Audience (Persona)
Out of the three audience we tested, the “Black Entrepreneurship” audience responded the strongest. Here are the video engagement stats for the first day:

Across all metrics, “Black Entrepreneurship” outperformed other audiences. Donors also performed well, as expected.
5. Boost winning ad set

Based on the first day, we decided to boost “Black Entrepreneurship” to $100 per day and “FEE Donors” to $30 per day. All other ad sets (and audiences) were stopped.

6: Measure results

Delivery Summary
  • $440 was spent boosting this video, with $38 used for the first day of calibration, and the rest directly on the selected audiences.  
  • A total of 322,000 people were reached. 178,000 of those were from direct paid reach, while the rest were organic. However, once advertising stopped, video views dropped for 30,000+ per day to well under 1,000. The majority of organic views originated from people who saw the ad.
  • After the ad campaign ended, organic views dropped rapidly from over 10,000 to a few hundred (see below). This video is not effective with our existing audience, and did not have a lot of organic momentum.
Return on Investment
  • There were a total of 111,000 video views, and 8,000 reactions. Each dollar thus generated 252 views and 18 likes.  
  • Cost per 1000 impressions was $1.50 for the “Black Entrepreneurship” audience and $8.03 for the donor audience.
  • The FEE Store link was clicked 301 times.  There were 28 Real Heroes sold during the ad period vs 26 for the several months prior, so the ad likely drove virtually all of those sales. Facebook matched 7 purchases via Offline Action tracking (each purchase may involve more than 1 book.) 

Open Questions
  • How many of the users who engaged with the ad will become frequent readers?  We’re not sure how to track this. (Google Analytics? Facebook Insights?)
  • How to measure the value of paid ad exposure? Book sales? Shares? Organic uplift? Are paid views as such worthwhile?
  • Given that our existing audience was not the most responsive to this video, and given that we were attempting to target groups outside of our core user base, is it possible that we need to reach a larger number of people with paid views in order to reach some unknown saturation point that will spark more organic growth? In other words, do we need to spend a lot more money before network effects will take over?
  • Once we’ve effectively identified an audience target through testing, would different means to reach those audiences be more effective than paid social media ads? For example, should we have planned an advertising strategy that included direct outreach to major audience influencers around Black Entrepreneurship, such as Daymond John?

Lessons Learned
  • Targeting segments effectively requires testing different audiences.
  • We can effectively boost content to new demographics and even get them to buy products, but converting them to returning visitors will require a new strategy.
  • We need a clear call to action for ads to measure effectiveness and extract value.

Five principles of effective marketing at FEE

Let’s talk about five principles that help the marketing team at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) communicate more effectively with our customers.

1. Clearly state the value proposition

Every message should clearly communicate the value our customer will gain from the product we are selling.

Let’s break that down:

Although FEE is a non-profit organization, we consider everything we do to be a product which can be sold to a customer just as much as multinational behemoths like Apple and McDonald’s

Every marketing conversation begins with a discussion of our audience:

  • Who are they?  What do they care about?
  • What do we have that they will value?

For example, when we segmented the market for FEEcon (our big conference this summer), we:

  • Split our customers into three groups: college students, young professionals, and older supporters of FEE.  
  • Brainstormed the values that each group gets from attending FEEcon.  From these values, we identified 4-5 value propositions for each group.

Here are the first two value propositions for FEE donors:

  • Personally witness how your investment in educating the next generation transforms their lives
  • Interact with the leaders of dozens of partner organizations and major philanthropists across the freedom movement

And for students:

  • Real skills for professional success and solid theoretical education
  • Networking opportunities: Engage with successful entrepreneurs and student leaders

These value propositions inform all the messaging that we create for this product, whether the medium is an article, email, or Facebook ad.

Consider this ad for students:

And this ad for young professionals:

And here is an ad for donors:

2. Present a single, clear call to action

The motto of FEE’s marketing process is “Always Be Closing.” Everything we do as marketers is designed to move our customer further toward closing the deal. Every message we make, be it a landing page, email, SMS, facebook ad, flier, whatever, asks the customer to take an action that moves them further down the conversion funnel. Each marketing communication has to have a large, prominent request to take a single action which will give the customer some sort of value.

This doesn’t mean that every marketing message has to ask for a deep commitment. We have a conversion funnel for each customer person which consists of a series of small messages. If we want students to apply for a three-day seminar, we first ask for their email so we can send them a free book or guide. The goal of each communication is to deepen awareness of our products and lower the barriers they have to the next step.

3. Make messaging personal 

The essence of our communications strategy is to make every message we send feel like it was written just for you by a real human being who cares about your concerns and is eagerly awaiting a reply, then use marketing automation to scale up that personal feel to thousands of people.

There are a few ways we do this:
A. Every email comes from a real human being. We don’t use any noreply@, support@ or sales@ emails. This includes transactional emails such as payments, registrations, reminders, etc.
B. Emails use a first person informal tone. We never say “we.” Messages take the tone of “I would really appreciate if you could do x.”
C. We sign all emails with our name just as we do with our personal mail.
D. We use plain text format whenever possible, especially if we expect a reply. When we use CRM tools to target messages, we export the names into Gmail or send a plain text message whenever we can. Marketing messages sent in plain text from Gmail avoid both the junk mail and the “Promotions” folder.
E. We make messages short and to the point. Because we can speak directly to the recipients values, we can offer something that we know they’ll care about and don’t have to waste space addressing everyone.
F. We talk like a normal conversion. We experiment with short, informal, lower-case subject lines such as “quick question:” or “you’re missing out.”

Marketing email from our CRM tool sent via Gmail

4:  Focus messages on specific customer personas

It’s easy to say that every message should push the customer down the sales funnel. The hard part is to track who each customer is, and where they are in their journey.

At FEE, we use HubSpot to split our users into a lifecycle stage funnel (lead, subscriber, opportunity, customer) and a customer persona (college student, parent, interested donor, casual reader, etc).  HubSpot tracks every visitor’s web and email interactions, and dozens of workflows use specific triggers, e.g., visiting the donate page recently, to classify people into personas based on recent behavior.

This allows us to tailor messages to the specific customer profile and offer them a product that we think they are most likely to be interested in. This minimizes our unsubscribe rates and keeps followers interested in our content.

Additionally, we make heavy use of retargeting for our advertising. We show Facebook and Twitter ads based on specific pages people visit.  If you’ve visited FEEcon.org recently, you’ll start seeing more FEEcon ads in your Facebook feed until you register, which will switch you from our “promotion” (please register) to the “nurture” campaign (please share this with your friends). If you’re not on our daily email list, you’ll see a lead form in your feed, otherwise, you might see donor messaging if you’re a heavy user of the site.

Partial snapshot of personas and lifecycle

5: Experiment to identify the best strategy, then automate it

We don’t plan a grand marketing strategy for each product.  The fact is, we have no idea what kind of message will resonate with our audience. Our marketing strategy is basically this:

A. Define audience
B. Define value proposition
C. Experiment with campaigns based on A and B at a small scale until we find something that works
D. Scale up C.

We build workflows which capture the most effective strategies and automate them for each customer journey. We use HubSpot to build one or more workflow for each product which contain a series of calls to action, triggers, messages and rules. First we capture leads with a CTA on a website or ad, then we enroll customers in a workflow and nurture them until they convert (buy the product, register for an event, donate to us). This enrolls them in a new workflow which is designed to deepen their commitment and cross-sell other products, starting the process over again.

How to Pursue a Passion for Fun and Profit

Most people aren’t happy with their jobs. Rather than accepting that reality, people should do what they love, and eventually, they will be rewarded in ways nobody could have foreseen.

After Steve Jobs dropped out of college in 1972, he was free to audit classes on topics that interested him. One of those courses was on calligraphy. In his own words, Jobs learned all about “serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great.”

None of what he learned appeared to have any practical use – until Jobs was designing the Macintosh 10 years later. At the time, all other computers used ugly monospaced fonts on green screens. Jobs poured his typographical knowledge into the Mac and produced the “first computer with beautiful typography.”

I really only got into photography when my daughter was born, and I realized that I had no idea how to take a decent photo of a human being. 

Steve Jobs related this story in a beautiful speech at a 2005 Stanford commencement address — one of the few times he bared his philosophy of life. His message was simple – follow your passion, do what you love, and eventually, you will be rewarded in ways you could not have foreseen.  

But is that really good advice? Will you be more successful if you spend your energy on endeavours which you enjoy doing or by focusing on more practical considerations? If you are a doctor, how will your carpentry hobby help your career? What about an engineer who likes rock-climbing? Or a lawyer whose favorite thing in life is playing at the local jazz club on Saturday nights? Is pursuing a passion only for the young?

The sad reality is that most people worldwide are not doing what they love. 52% of Americans are unhappy with their jobs. Only 13% worldwide love what they do. A young person facing these facts might have three reactions:

  1. Hating your job is an unfortunate but necessary aspect of our economy. We are consigned to live out miserable lives as wage serfs until something better comes along.
  2. It’s alright to hate your job, because there are more important things in life, such as friends, family, and hobbies.
  3. The view that your job has to suck is fundamentally wrong, and being happy with your work is a practical and proper goal.

Even if you agree with Steve Jobs, what should you do about it? How exactly will a passion for role-playing video games result in a successful career? Part of the problem is that we have forgotten what it means to be “passionate” about something.

Three Rules for Passionate Pursuit

The universe is big, and every now and then, I discover something in it that I want to learn more about. One of those things has been photography. If you asked me, I would have said that photography has been my hobby for many years, but all that really meant is that I carried an expensive toy around and took pictures at parties when things got boring. I really only got into photography when my daughter was born, and I realized that I had no idea how to take a decent photo of a human being. I hated every photo I took, and resolved to learn how to do it better.

The reality is that talent is something we develop by persistent effort and continuous improvement.

1. Master the skills

The first thing I did was find out who the best photographers in the world were. I found a few that I liked, and searched for how to take a class from them. I found one which seemed like a good starting point and dived in.

After every lesson, I would go out and practice what I had just learned. I took tens of thousands of photos of my family and friends, and when they got tired of that, of people on the streets of Shanghai. I spent many hours roaming the city, taking my camera on runs through old neighborhoods and tourist spots, and family events. After I had learned the fundamentals, I took courses on photo editing, workflow, and the masters of the past.

2. Be your own worst critic

As my photos improved, I got tons of praise, but very little criticism. Once, I joined a meeting of some of the best professional photographers in Shanghai, as they presented photo-essays of their projects in order to learn how to critique a work to better direct my progress. However I saw that people tended to vary the praise they offer, but rarely offered essential criticism. Unless you are very lucky, you will have to be your own worst critic.

3. Keep improving

There are two opposing but equally terrible ideas when it comes to talent:

  1. The intrinsic view of talent is that it is innate, and there is nothing we can do about it.  
  2. The materialistic view of talent is that the more we do something, the better we get at it.

The reality is that talent is something we develop by persistent effort and continuous improvement. The most difficult thing in the world is to honestly understand our own mistakes, and then fix them – and keep doing this over and over. This is how all masters – from painters to rocket scientists get to where they are.

It’s OK to be passionate about something and not drop everything else in your life for it.

This is how mastery of any skill works. When you start, you don’t know that you’re terrible. Anything is possible, and the work is easy. As you learn more about your field, you come to realize that it is far more complex than it seems. You realize that you’re an amateur and your work sucks. You become incredibly discouraged. This is when most people quit. Only after a long period of harsh self-criticism and continuous improvement do we become good at something.

Ira Glass says it best:

What’s the payoff?

After several months of effort, I found something else that interested me, and moved on. At this point, you might ask, “If you were so great at photography, why didn’t you quit your job and take it up full time?” I probably could have become a decent wedding photographer. But you know what – many people are good at photography. It’s a crowded market with increasingly small margins. It’s OK to be passionate about something and not drop everything else in your life for it.

There was a time when I quit my day job to pursue something I cared about – but not everything else. Life is long enough for us to master many trades. If I never did anything with photography, I would still have a collection of great family photos and see my work published in dozens of magazines.

But if you have entrepreneurial attitude, you’re bound to find a way to use your passion to build your career or at least add another income stream.

Combine your hobby and your career

When you find a passion in the midst of a career, the best opportunities often come from combining it with your existing work. With me, it happened when I learned about a project to build a photo-sharing service which would let thousands of people share photos of school activities with our customers. I jumped on the project and convinced management to let me lead the team that would build it.

I didn’t publish a single photo, but I used my perspective as a photographer to build a successful product. My experience as a user of Flickr, Instagram, Lightroom, and other products used by photographers gave me a deep understanding that helped me build a product that customers would find simple and intuitive. And it worked – before long, people were using the website and mobile apps to upload millions of photos, and my career received a boost that I parlayed into a better title and salary.

You can do it too

Anything worth your time is worth the effort to learn to do it well. Whatever it is you love, pursue it with a passion. Keep striving and improving. You may not see the practical value right away – that’s OK. You’ll still enjoy the feeling of having mastered a skill. But if you have entrepreneurial attitude, you’re bound to find a way to use your passion to build your career or at least add another income stream.

One of my friends used his love for Star Wars and video games to become a cinematic designer, working on a triple-A Star Wars franchise. Another one used his love of solving math problems to get a job as data analyst. I decided to combine my undergraduate degree in economics and a passion for software development to build several online markets, including one for construction equipment and a cryptocurrency exchange.

You can love what you do – if you’re honest about your faults, persistent enough to overcome them, and entrepreneurial enough to use your passion in your career.

Originally posted at FEE.org

Your house is not a spaceship: the whole world is your home

SA 95

For one hundred plus years, Americans have been told that owning a home embodies the ideal, an essential life goal. After the housing crash of 2008, that unquestioned ideal is no more. What precisely is wrong with renting? And what is wrong with renting something small?

My ideal home has two rooms: a bedroom to sleep in, and a kitchen to cook in. These days, I live in Atlanta, Georgia. A few days a week, my wife and I take our daughter to the park next door, which is in an upscale neighborhood. Occasionally we strike up conversations with the other parents there. Sooner or later, the question of where we live comes up, and we casually mention that we live in an apartment complex. I still remember the first reaction to my answer – I was instantly branded as a member of the lower-class. At this point, any chance of a play date or further social connection was permanently rejected.


Sophie in the parkThese days, I live in Atlanta, Georgia.  A few days a week, my wife and I take our daughter to the park next door, which is in an upscale neighborhood.  Occasionally we strike up conversations with the other parents there.  Sooner or later, the question of where we live comes up, and we casually mention that we live in an apartment complex.  I still remember the first reaction to my answer – I was instantly branded as a member of the lower-class.  At this point, any chance of a play date or further social connection was permanently rejected.

Home Ownership and Social Status


It’s true – my family of three lives in a small one-bedroom apartment. It’s a pretty nice apartment, in a good neighborhood, but that’s irrelevant. The fact that I have not bought a house for my family makes us outcasts, poor, financially irresponsible, or otherwise unsuitable for social company. Wouldn’t any responsible parent get a home for their children?

Most Fridays, some friends of ours come over to our complex so our kids can play in the pool. Having a pool next door is one of the perks of living in an apartment complex. Living next to a big city park is another. Living next to my office, so I can get to work in less than five minutes is a third. I spend less of my life in traffic – and I spend it on my bike.

If the parents at the park bothered to ask, they would learn that living in a small apartment is a lifestyle choice, not something we do out of financial necessity. In fact, chances are good that our financial situation is betterthan theirs — and a big part of that is our decision not to buy a home. I’m won’t rehash the reasons for that here – read theseposts.

What I want to address is the American habit of treating the home as a spaceship — a self-contained ecosystem which is expected to provide for all their needs.

It Takes a Village

Summer 1985 LitinWhen I was a little boy growing up in Ukraine, from the age of six on, I would wander our village all day, coming in only for meals.  Often I would have to be found and dragged in.  I wandered around the stadium and construction sites, using the frames and air ducts of buildings as makeshift jungle gym, the piles of sand as targets for jumping from the second floor.  

When we moved to San Antonio, I spent entire days exploring the city by bike, even in the middle of summer.   I dared myself to go as far from our house as possible, limited only by my supply of water in the 100 degree heat, and the need to be back before dark (I was too poor for a bike light).  

From the time I was a small child to today, my home has always been a place to eat and sleep, and occasionally work.  However, when I want social company, entertainment, play, adventure, a place to concentrate on work, or relax, it is far lower on my list of options.  

A Different Ideal

My ideal home is just two rooms: a bedroom to sleep in, and a kitchen to cook in.   These are things which I have personal preferences about and am willing to maintain.  Everything else, I am quite willing to outsource for someone else to maintain.  Every extra square foot or possession is a liability – a square foot I have to spend time maintaining rather than enjoying life.

The other day, our three year old daughter was playing with her rocking horse.  She had flipped it over and was pretending that it was a kitchen stove.  She asked me if I wanted some eggs and then pantomimed in surprising detail the process of cracking eggs, washing hands, frying eggs over easy, and serving them to me.  I remarked to my wife that perhaps Sophie needs a play kitchen.  She said no – first, as I just saw, her imagination served her just fine, and second, she knows how to cook many foods because she has helped her mommy many times in a real kitchen.  She has her own kitchen utensils, including a sharp knife and a vegetable peeler, and helps out to the best of her physical and mental abilities.

The real world is her playground. When she needs to burn off energy, she goes to the park. When she wants to be creative, she plays with legos and paint. When she wants social company, she plays with us or friends. (We have a maximum of an hour of screen time per day.)

Sophie - Arabia Mountain, GeorgiaThe real world is my playground too. When I want to relax, I meditate in the park. When I want to exercise, I ride my bike around the city. If I want adventure – well, the Appalachian trail starts less than two hours North from here. When I want to concentrate, I go to the office next door. When I want social company, I go to the pool or cafe. When I want entertainment – well, usually I’m too busy living my own life to follow the stories Hollywood comes up with, but my laptop screen works just fine.

There are many examples I could give, but my point is: your house is not a spaceship lost in space. Whether your have a family or live alone, make the whole world your home. It’s far bigger and more wonderful than any poor imitation you could try to recreate on your own. I’m not saying that you should never buy a house. Just don’t make it your life ambition, much less try to fit your entire life inside it.

Originally posted at FEE.org

Five ways to improve your communications skills

How good are your communication skills? How often do you feel that misunderstandings get in the way of your personal relationships or your career? Do you ever avoid talking to people because you don’t know how to express what you feel, or because you are afraid that you will be misunderstood?

What if you could dramatically improve the effectiveness of your spoken and written communication? Would it increase your confidence when speaking to coworkers, friends, and romantic interests? Would you take more chances if you could speak directly to someone’s mind, almost as if you had a telepathic connection with your listener?

The problem with most people’s communication skills is that they think that it is an innate talent. They think that if you’re not a smart, good-looking extrovert with a good voice, you can never be a great communicator. It’s true that these things help. But just because you’re tall and have strong legs doesn’t mean that you can win a gold medal at the olympics. And even if you are short and weak by nature, doesn’t mean that you can’t double or triple your performance. Of course, no workout will make you two feet taller. But unlike your body, your brain is very flexible.

You might think that speaking is something we learn automatically, and don’t have much control over. It’s true that we learn how to talk automatically and subconsciously, just like we learned to run automatically. But, just as a trained athlete can run faster and longer than an amateur, so can a conscious effort to improve your skills vastly improve your performance.

Here are five tips:

One: Less is more.

Paying attention is hard. It takes an effort to follow what someone is saying. Don’t make that effort any harder than it absolutely has to be. Keep it simple. Keep it short. Keep it focused.

Long and unusual words take longer to recognize than smaller and more familiar words. Many people use a stilted academic tone when they have something important to say. Don’t do it. Don’t say comprehend, say understand, or follow, or just get. Don’t go on an harangue, tirade, or diatribe, go on a rant.

Same goes for sentence and paragraph size. Ditto for analogies and figures of speech. They need an extra mental cross-reference. Just say it. Don’t give me a piece of your mind. Just say it. And whatever you do, cut it out with the likes and the umms, and the you know. You need to take mental breaks when speaking, but just practice making them silent. Your perceived competency will immediately go up 50%. Yes, I just made that number up. Here’s another made up rule: if your finished work is not 30% shorter than your first draft, it’s too long.

Two: Use relevant visual examples.

Your brain is just a big network of triggers made up of images, sounds, tastes, and sensations. If you want me to remember what you said, you need to tie some of those triggers to what you just said. Use examples I know. If you want us to go out for sushi, remind me of the smoked salmon we ate last week. Yes, examples are not just for English class. See? That’s another one.

Good examples are about important things your audience is already familiar with. Don’t talk to young people about how you applied conflict resolution to your mother in law. Talk about your parents. Talk about shiny, fast, loud, dangerous, smelly things if you want to create strong mental triggers to your message.

Three: No distractions.

“Cue words” are concepts that can trigger emotional responses that block rational analysis. For example, democracy, Obama, guns, abortion. Just by saying those words, I’ve triggered a whole cascade of mental activity. Regardless of your political orientation, your mind is now busy trying to classify me into friend, enemy, or maybe just trying to think of something intelligent to say about them. Don’t distract me by mentioning things that trigger distracting emotional responses, or words with a whole host of irrelevant connotations. I’m not saying that you should not talk about controversial topics – just don’t distract the reader with them unnecessarily, even if you think he sides with you.

Four: Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Repetition is crucial to forming long-term memory. You’ve heard this before: say what you’re going to say, say it, then say what you said. Here’s an advanced trick: you can improve memorization by using spaced repetition. Make your point then repeat it with increasing intervals of time between each repetition.

Five: Five or less.

Most people can only keep a limited number of ideas in their immediate memory at once. Once they exceed that number, they are going to forget some of the things they learned. For most people, that number is five. So regardless of the topic, organize your presentation or argument so that you never list more than five items for any given category.

The five tips are: less is more, use relevant examples, no distractions, repeat, repeat repeat, and five points or less.

Four reasons to practice evidence-based medicine

Few people would openly admit that they prefer irrational treatments and doctors.  But most people do in fact advocate irrational health practices – using pseudonyms for “irrational” as “holistic,” “alternative,” “homeopathic” and the deadly “natural.”

Medical practice requires an understanding of cause and effect

The human body operates according to certain causal principles. If we wish to make a change in our health, we must understand some of those causal principles and act according to our understanding. To act without a rational basis is to disconnect our goals from their achievement. Irrationality does not guarantee failure — it just means that success, to the extent that it happens, will be due to other factors that our goals.

The study of human health is especially vulnerable to errors of reasoning

In the field of health, especially rigorous rationality is necessary for at least five reasons:

  1. The human body will solve, or at least try to solve most problems on its own. This makes establishing causality due external factors quite difficult and introduces biases such as the placebo effect and the regression fallacy.
  2. The body is very complex! Because it evolved over billions of years, the causal relationships in the body are extremely complex and interdependent.   For example, even if we know that the body has too little of a certain substance, taking that substance may:
    a: not do anything
    b: cause the body to produce even less of the substance or c: cause an unpredictable side effect. On the other hand, if the body has too much of something, then the solution may be to a: consume less of that substance b: consume more of that substance or
    c: the consumption has no relationship at all to the level of that substance.
  3. It can be difficult to quantitatively measure the extent to which health problems are solved. While some things can be measured, many things, such as pain levels are very difficult to quantify.
  4. It is difficult to isolate causal factors in human beings since changes in health take time to develop and we can’t control every factor during an experiment or dissect human subjects when it is over.
  5. Humans tend to be irrational when it comes to their own mortality! We fear death, leading us to irrational over or under spending on health as well as being especially vulnerable to all the logical fallacies.

Scientifically sound research is needed to identity truths in medicine

There is a name for the field that applies rigor to the discovery of facts about nature: science. Science has been so successful in improving the state of human knowledge that many irrational, anti-scientific quacks have begun to use the term “scientific” to describe anti-scientific practices and ideas. In response to this, the medical community has come up with a term which identifiers the distinguishing aspect of rationality: “evidence based medicine.” This phrase is a necessary redundancy that identifies the essential characteristic of science: that it is based on empirical evidence. The alternative to non-evidence based science is not science at all, but emotionalism – “I feel it is true, so it must be.”

In the last hundred years, we have discovered certain practices for ensuring the conclusions of our medical experiments are valid. We know experimentally that observing these practices leads to more accurate conclusions. Let me emphasize that: the truth of medical claims is strongly correlated with the degree to which experiments follow accepted scientific standards. There are a number of objective scales for measuring the quality of an experiment.

Five characteristics of evidence-based medical studies

  1. The experiment and its results are fully described in enough detail to reproduce and compare the results
  2. There is a randomized control group
  3. The selection of control subjects is double blind
  4. The methods of randomization and blinding are accurately described and appropriate
  5. There is a description of withdrawals and dropouts.

Further reading:


Addendum: How to judge health claims

Continue reading “Four reasons to practice evidence-based medicine”